The expert weighs in.
While we’ve asked you, the readers, to help us decide who the worst of the worst are in this year’s TPM Duke of Dukes contest, we figured you could use a bit of persuasion one way or the other — a reminder as to why these scandal-plagued political figures’ buffoonery is worth celebrating.
Duke Cunningham v. James Traficant
Partly as a matter of sentiment, I think Duke Cunningham, who started this august tradition, should at least make the first round. But also he fits the most important criteria: not just a crook, but a colorful one. The yacht, the lava lamp, the bribe menu. Traficant, although expelled, was a more garden-variety crook, but a colorful one.
Jeff Gannon v. Scooter Libby
At first glance, Gannon might seem more colorful (his story has the element of sex) than Scooter Libby, the loyal bureaucrat who took a fall for the boss. But I’ve actually read Libby’s novel “The Apprentice” (1996) with its strange bears-coupling-with-young-girls theme, so I have to say Libby is a much stranger person. Also this was a crime that succeeded: by protecting Cheney and being commuted by Bush (and pardoned by Trump), Libby set the stage for the current age of scandal.
Jack Abramoff v. Dick Cheney
Abramoff is a storied figure but Cheney is a step beyond: legendary in what he was able to get away with. To this day, it still seems like a delirious dream. Did the former vice president really shoot a man in the face and get an apology from the man? Yes. It happened.
Rob Blagojevich v. Mark Foley
Again: the rule is the more colorful, the better. Congressional sex scandals of the Foley sort are commonplace, if sordid. Blagojevich on the other hand took self-enrichment to a new level. His ability to game Trump to get a pardon also shows that he’s not someone who rests on his laurel. He’s still out there grifting, an inspiration for lesser wiseguys.
Rob Ford v. Dinesh D’Souza
As a former Torontonian, who once saw Ford in his last sad days and also has spent time visiting the apartment where the infamous crack smoking took place, I have to go with Ford. D’Souza is an infamous public idiot, much dunked on on social media, but not much more than that.
Anthony Weiner v. Chris Christie
A tough choice since both embody a style of Northeastern douchebaggery that is regionally distinct. But Christie seems like a pale Sopranos royal player, while Weiner’s sexting has a genuine level of unhingedness. Also, Weiner helped elect Trump, so it’s of world-historical importance!
Rudy Giuliani v. Jerry Falwell Jr.
Another tough one! Giuliani, I think, deserves special credit for destroying his reputation. I mean, he had been Time’s Person of the Year in 2001. Even back then, some of us remembered the race-baiting Rudy who was surrounded by dubious friends. The great thing about 2020 Rudy is he’s letting the rest of the world see who he really is — and it’s not a pretty sight! Falwall’s own scandal is colorful enough — a pool boy, financial hanky-panky at an evangelical school — but it’s a small mouse compared to Rudy’s non-stop clown show.
Duncan Hunter v. Paul Manafort
This one is not a contest. Corrupt congresspeople, even ones who scape-goat their spouse, are within the range of normal corruption. But Manafort is an epic scoundrel of international proportions. We only have a small glimmering of everything he was involved in, but it’s clearly globe-spanning crimes that involve compromising the very integrity of American democracy. Truly a gangster for the ages.
Made up your mind? More confused than ever? Vote here!